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Assault on Copenhagen (1659)

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Assault on Copenhagen (1659)

Assault on Copenhagen
Part of Second Northern War (Dano-Swedish War (1658-1660))
The assault of Copenhagen
The assault of Copenhagen
Date 11 February 1659
Location Copenhagen, Denmark
Result Danish victory
Belligerents
Denmark Sweden
Commanders and leaders
Frederick III Karl X Gustav
Otto Stenbock
Strength
Around 10,650 Danish soldiers, 600 Dutch mercenaries and armed citizens of Copenhagen, 343 guns of various caliber Around 9,050 Swedish soldiers
Casualties and losses
14 Around 1,700

The assault on Copenhagen on 11 February 1659 was a major battle during the Second Northern War, taking place during the siege of Copenhagen by the Swedish army.

Background

During the Northern Wars, the Swedish army under Charles X Gustav of Sweden, after invading the Danish mainland of Jutland, swiftly crossed the frozen straits and occupied most of the Danish island of Zealand, with the invasion beginning on February 11, 1658. This forced the Danes to sue for peace. A preliminary treaty, the Treaty of Taastrup, was signed on February 18, 1658 with the final treaty, the Treaty of Roskilde, signed on February 26, 1658, granting Sweden major territorial gains.

The Swedish king, however, was not content with his stunning victory, and at the Privy Council held at Gottorp on July 7, Charles X Gustav resolved to wipe his inconvenient rival from the map of Europe. Without any warning, in defiance of international treaty, he ordered his troops to attack Denmark-Norway a second time.

The Swedish armies had never left Denmark after the peace and already occupied all of Denmark apart from the capital, Copenhagen. After a failed assault, Copenhagen was put under siege in the hope of breaking the defense by starvation. In November 1658 however a Dutch relief fleet under Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam defeated the Swedish fleet in the Battle of the Sound and lifted the sea blockade so that supplies and an auxiliary army could reach the capital. The Dutch were an ally of Denmark from the Anglo-Dutch Wars and were afraid that Swedish control of the Baltic would ruin their profitable trade in this area.

The opposing forces

After the Copenhageners had withstood about six months of siege, bombardments and attacks, the Swedes attempted to take the city by a grand assault, as a prolonged siege no longer offered any hope of success, now that the sea lanes had been opened by the Dutch.

The Copenhageners had been forewarned by spies, so they had planned their defences well and stockpiled weapons and ammunition.

The walls of Copenhagen bristled with about 300 pieces of cannon, mortars and other artillery, while a diverse mixture of weapons, ranging from muskets and arquebuses to morningstars, scythes, boiling water and tar had been readied for action. Craftsmen, students and other civilians were divided into nine companies, and each of these companies was allocated a part of the wall to defend. The professional soldiers were stationed at the outer field works, the Kastellet and the Slotsholmen.

The Swedish army consisted of about 9,000 professional soldiers, while the Danish defenders, a mixture of professionals (among them a mercenary regiment paid by the Dutch), militia and raw civilians, were of an equal number.

The assault

Contemporary image showing details of the battle
Students defending Copenhagen

The Swedes started the action by making a diversionary attack at Christianshavn and Slotsholmen at the evening on 9 February. They were repulsed, and the Swedes left one of their assault bridges behind, which the Danes captured and measured. They found that the Swedish assault bridges were 36 feet long, and thus they realised that they could render these bridges useless by making the ice free parts of the moats wider than that.

The moats and the beaches had been kept free of ice, and now the ice free zones were widened to 44 feet with help from 600 Dutch marines. The ice was thick, and the work was done in heavy snowfall from 4 o'clock in the afternoon till evening on the 10 February.

Spies reported that the Swedish army had moved from their camp, Carlstad, at Brønshøj and had taken up positions behind Valby Hill, and when the Swedes began their assault about midnight the same evening, they met heavy resistance.

The main assaults were made against Christianshavn and Vestervold, but the chopped-up ice and the massed weaponry on the wall made the densely packed attackers pay a horrific toll in lives. Still, they fought their way to the top of the wall, and fierce hand-to-hand fighting broke out.

When the Swedes realised that the assaults on the Western part of the wall were in trouble, the choice was made to make a supporting attack at Østerport. The Swedes got very close to Nyboder and were in the process of crossing the moat, when they fell victim to a well-conducted ambush, and they withdrew with heavy losses.

At about five in the morning the Swedes gave up and retreated. They had taken severe losses. Before the walls 600 bodies were counted, and many more had perished in the ice-cold water and were never found. On top of that there were many wounded. The Danes had only suffered about thirty dead.

Aftermath

The Dutch in the spring of 1659 sent a second fleet and army under Vice-Admiral Treaty of Copenhagen was signed on May 27, 1660, and marked the conclusion of the Second Northern War between Sweden and the alliance of Denmark and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In conjunction with the Treaty of Roskilde, it ended a generation of warfare and established the present-day borders of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

See also

References

  • (Swedish) Lars Ericson, "Köpenhamn 1659, Följden av en felritad karta" in Svenska slagfält. Stockholm, 2003, pp. 206–14. ISBN 91-46-20225-0.

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